Never stay satisfied: Why lifelong learning is essential to success

Much more than a static list of prior accomplishments and positions held, every career is a constantly changing and evolving (hopefully for the better) work in progress. Learning and openness to new experiences is key to the ongoing process of cultivating professional success and personal fulfillment, but unfortunately many young professionals entering the workforce have historically made the mistake of assuming education stops entirely following Graduation Day. 

A Bachelor’s, Master’s, or even PhD are invaluable assets and incredible achievements, but even the most tenured professors or experienced doctors will attest that the day one stops learning is a major milestone in the worst of ways. From entry level workers putting together their very first resumes to veteran executives in charge of entire divisions and workforces, a lifelong willingness to learn and develop new skills has been proven time and time again to be an invaluable if not absolutely essential personal trait.

One recent eye-opening survey that polled over 600 c-suite executives (CEOs, CFOs, CCOs, etc) reports an astounding 98% are of the belief that by the year 2033 virtually every job across all sectors will require tech skills (AI, IT, coding, cybersecurity, etc). Another 97% of surveyed business executives said they would be much more likely to hire a job candidate who has continued to “upskill” or learn new abilities in their chosen field or speciality. 

So, to put it bluntly, educational stagnation is shaping up to be an absolute career killer in the coming decade. Here are a few more examples of how a learning mindset is integral to both the modern hiring landscape and the livelihood of entire organizations.

Learning via job search missteps

It’s understandable to see sorting through endless job postings and writing neverending cover letters as nothing more than a chore, but a study published in the scientific journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes actually tells us that job hunters who see their search as a learning opportunity usually have more success landing interviews and offers. Rejections are never easy, but even such negative responses (or no answer at all) offer an opportunity to assess what can be done differently on the next application. 

Rejection is inevitable over the course of a job search, but those experiences can also serve as learning lessons that ultimately help you land an even better gig.

Today’s workforce wants to learn

While we already mentioned that corporate decision makers prefer to hire habitual learners over more inert candidates, the recent rise of learning as a desirable commodity works both ways. Consider a survey of 2,000 Americans actively searching for a new job (1,000 employed, 1,000 unemployed) conducted last year. Three in four of polled employed workers said they would be happier in their current position if it provided more opportunities to learn new relevant skills. Meanwhile, 67% of all surveyed individuals admitted a potential new gig would be much more attractive if it offered robust on-the-job educational options.

More skills, more money

More money may lead to more problems, but it’s safe to bet that most of us would happily take on a few more dilemmas if it meant more zeroes in our bank accounts. Well, a research project published in the Journal of Political Economy suggests that more skills leads to more money. Scientists explain that the more skills a worker acquires throughout the course of their career, the more likely they’ll be to land a high-paying job. Moreover, constantly learning new skills was also associated with more outside job offers from other employers and a generally lower chance of unemployment.

Fun and learning go hand-in-hand

Not all learning comes in the form of seminars, speeches, or courses. While employers and companies who offer formal educational opportunities absolutely have the right idea, a study published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior serves as a timely reminder that in many cases the most rewarding learning experiences come spontaneously. Researchers found that a fun, more laid back work environment is extremely helpful when it comes to generating more organic, informal learning amongst co-workers and internal teams. For example, learning is often best achieved through doing, and in a fun work space employees will be more open to trying new things, thinking outside the box, and collaborating with other workers.

Learning starts with leadership

Besides just promoting improved employee satisfaction and retention, a manager who prioritizes learning on the job will also see better bottom-line results. Research published in Group & Organization Management concludes that professional leaders who encourage their workers to take more risks, offer more of their thoughts and suggestions, and learn on the job foster more resilient and effective workforces. In other words, an office or workspace that actively discourages learning essentially equates to a business sabotaging itself.